Perception in the Mind and the Subliminal and Subconscious Levels of Experience

The conscious mind acts as a filter for the sense perceptions.  The physical senses pick up the vibratory patterns and pass them along to the brain through the nervous system, but we only perceive those elements to which the mind has attended at some level.  Western psychology has done a lot of work in the last 100 years or so to explore the limits of perception and the interaction of the senses, the nerves and the brain with the conscious filtering process.  Experiments using hypnosis show that enormous amounts of sensory data is actually captured and stored in excess of what the mind can identify or recall.  Experiments to capture vibration in the skin and overcome limitations of the ear for deaf individuals show that the mind can understand sensory data that does not come through the normal sense-organ channels.  Psychologists such as C.G. Jung explored subliminal and subconscious levels of awareness that capture vast amounts of data that we simply do not attend to in our normal waking consciousness.  These and other examples point the way (although they do not capture the entire meaning) toward the explanation provided by the Kena Upanishad of the existence of a Sense behind the sense that may or may not use the physical sense organs, but nevertheless is able to experience the reality of the universal creation.  The sense organs are limited.  This greater Sense is unlimited since it is based on the unity of the entire manifestation and not on the action of a particular physical mechanism to capture, transmit and translate vibratory patterns of existence.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “We know now or we rediscover the truth that the conscious operation of mind is only a surface action.  There is a much vaster and more potent subconscious  mind which loses nothing of what the sense bring to it; it keeps all its wealth in an inexhaustible store of memory…. The surface mind may pay not attention, still the subconscious mind attends, receives, treasures up with an infallible accuracy.”

“The Upanishads declare that the Mind in us is infinite; it knows not only what has been seen but what has not been seen, not only what has been heard but what has not been heard, not only what has been discriminated by the thought but what has not been discriminated by the thought.  Let us say, then, in the tongue of our modern knowledge that the surface man in us is limited by his physical experiences; he knows only what his nervous life in the body brings to his embodied mind; and even of those bringings he knows, he can retain and utilise only so much as his surface mind-sense attends to and consciously remembers; but there is a larger subliminal consciousness within him which is not thus limited.  That consciousness senses what has not been sensed by the surface mind and its organs and knows what the surface mind has not learned by its acquisitive thought.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 142-155

The Operation and Nature of the Senses of Perception

When we examine the operation of sense perception, we generally treat the senses as extensions of the mind.  Whether it is sight, hearing, smell, taste or touch, we recognise the senses as receiving the impressions of the material world, translating them into nervous impulses which are routed to the brain, where the mental interpretation of what was experienced takes place.  Sense perception can break down at any stage of this process and in such cases we diagnose someone as being blind, deaf etc.  Some Western psychologists, studying the issue, have pointed out that we do not have a direct experience of the material world as the process involves several steps of translation of whatever impinged upon the senses into a form of electrical-chemical energy into some understanding in the mind.  Yet there are experiences that seem to transcend the action of the physical senses, and even those that go beyond the conscious experience in the mind, which lead us to appreciate that this basic understanding is severely limited and incomplete.

The Kena Upanishad took up the relation of the senses and the mind, and the wider context of experiencing life in the world.  Verses 6 and 7 directly take up the question of sense perception in its true sense:

“That which sees not with the eye, that by which one sees the eye’s seeings, know That to be the Brahman and not this which men follow after here.  That which hears not with the ear, that by which the ear’s hearing is heard, know That to be the Brahman and not this which men follow after here.”

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Sense, however, is not or does not appear to be fundamental; it is only an instrumentation of Mind using the nervous system.  It is not even a pure mental functioning, but depends so much upon the currents of the Life-force, upon its electric energy vibrating up and down the nerves, that in the Upanishads the senses are called Pranas, powers or functionings of the Life-force.  It is true that Mind turns these nervous impressions when communicated to it into mental values, but the sense-action itself seems to be rather nervous than mental.  In any case there would, at first sight, appear to be no warrant in reason for attributing a Sense of the sense to that which is not embodied, to a supramental consciousness which has no need of any such instrumentation.”

“But this is not the last word about sense; this is only its outward appearance behind which we must penetrate. … In its functioning, if we analyse that thoroughly, we see that it is the contact of the mind with an eidolon of Matter, — whether that eidolon be of a vibration of sound, a light-image of form, a volley of earth-particles giving the sense of odour, an impression of rasa or sap that gives the sense of taste, or that direct sense of disturbance of our nervous being which we call touch.  … the mind operates upon Matter not directly, but through the Life-force; that is its instrument of communication and the Life-force, being in us a nervous energy and not anything material, can seize on Matter only through nervous impressions of form, through contactual images, as it were, which create corresponding values in the energy-consciousness called int he Upanishads the Prana.  Mind takes these up and replies to them with corresponding mental values, mental impressions of form, so that the thing sensed comes to us after a triple process of translation, first the material eidolon, secondly the nervous or energy-image, third the image reproduced in stuff of mind.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 142-155

Mind and Supermind, Part 3

The challenges facing all of humanity require a different way of looking at issues and responding to them.  The mind characteristically operates through analysis, division and fragmentation, by an exclusive concentration on particular aspects without taking account of the whole system within which those aspects reside and function.  The imbalances caused by this approach lead us to the existential crisis of survival, as we can recognize looking at the state of the world today.  Species die-off, over-utilization of resources, imbalanced allocation of those resources, unchecked climate change, polllution of the air, land and water, proliferation of chemicals that impact the health of all are just a few of the crises that have come about through the inability of the mind to grasp the unity of the whole.

The supermind starts from the standpoint of unity and treats the multiple forms and forces as individual expressions based within and founded on that unity.  It brings an entirely different view to all of the issues that we are facing.  It is the way of Nature to pose serious challenges to propel growth and development, and this is yet another sign that the time for the supramental development must be at hand.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “For mind, based on limitation and division, can act only from a given centre in the lower and obscured existence; but Supermind is founded on unity and it comprehends and pervades; its action is in the universal and is in conscious communion with a transcendent source eternal and beyond the formations of the universe.  Supermind regards the individual in the universal and does not begin with him or make of him a separate being.  It starts from the Transcendent and sees the universal and individual as they are in relation to it, as its terms, as its formulas; it does not start from the individual and universal to arrive at the Transcendent.  Mind acquires knowledge and mastery; it reaches it by a constant mentalising and willing: Supermind possesses knowledge and master; possessing, it throws itself out freely in various willing and knowing.  Mind gropes by divided sensation; it arrives at a sort of oneness through sympathy: Supermind possesses by a free and all-embracing sense; it lives in the unity of which various love and sympathy are only a secondary play of manifestation.  Supermind starts from the whole and sees in it its parts and properties, it does not build up the knowledge of the whole by an increasing knowledge of the parts and properties; and even the whole is to it only a unity of sum, only a partial and inferior term of the higher unity of infinite essence.”

“Even our ignorance is only the distorted action of a truth projected from the Supermind and could not exist except as such a distortion; and so likewise all our dualities of knowledge, sensation, emotion, force proceed from that higher vision, obey it and are a secondary and, as one might say, perverse action of the concealed Supermind itself which governs always this lower action in harmony with its first conception of a located consciousness, divided indeed and therefore not in possession of its world or itself, but feeling out towards that possession and towards the unity which, because of the Supermind in us, it instinctively, if obscurely, knows to be its true nature and right.”

“… the attempt at acquisition can only succeed in proportion as the mental being abandons his characteristic mentality and its limitations in order to rise beyond mind to that Mind of the mind which is his origin and his secret governing principle.  His mentality must admit Supramentality as Life has admitted Mind.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 136-141

Mind and Supermind, Part 2

The human standpoint starts from the view of separate, fragmented individuality.  The divine standpoint starts at the opposite end of the spectrum, seeing the unity of all creation and consciousness, and treating the individual manifestations, beings, forces and events as data points in a coordinated oneness.  From the human standpoint, it is incomprehensible how Matter can eventually develop Life, and Life eventually develop Mind.  From the divine standpoint, it is clear that all of these forms are part of a continuum of consciousness and that the higher expressions of awareness are already involved in the lower, just as the genetic coding for the tree is secretly involved in the physical seed.   We can observe the signs of mind being prepared for what is beyond Mind if we look carefully.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “But as Matter is constantly prepared for the manifestation of Life until Life is able to move in it, possess it, manage in it its own action and reaction, and as Life is constantly prepared for the manifestation of Mind until Mind is able to use it, enlighten its actions and reactions by higher and higher mental values, so must it be with Mind and that which is beyond Mind.  And all this progression is possible because these things are only different formations of one being and one consciousness.  Life only reveals in Matter that which is involved in Matter, that which is the secret meaning and essence of Matter.  It reveals, as it were, to material existence its own soul, its own end.  So too Mind reveals in Life all that Life means, all that it obscurely is in essence but cannot realise because it is absorbed in its own practical motion and its own characteristic form.  So also Supermind must intervene to reveal Mind to itself, to liberate it from its absorption in its own practical motion and characteristic form and enable the mental being to realise that which is the hidden secret of all its formal practice and action.  Thus shall man come to the knowledge of that which rules within him and missions his mind to its mark, sends forth his speech, impels the life-force in its paths and sets his senses to their workings.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 136-141

Mind and Supermind, Part 1

Having recognized the necessity of a “Mind behind the mind”, the questions then arise as to whether and to what extent we can experience, know and relate to that level of consciousness.  The Upanishads constantly tell us that our mind and senses cannot know or seize this next level of awareness; and yet they advise us to seek after and know Brahman.  Sri Aurobindo explains the apparent contradiction in these two positions:

“When we say, however, that “Mind of mind” is the nature or description of the Brahman-consciousness, we must not forget that the absolute Brahman in itself is held to be unknowable and therefore beyond description.  It is unknowable, not because it is a void and capable of no description except that of nothingness, nor because, although positive in existence, it has no content or quality, but because it is beyond all that that our present instruments of knowledge can conceive and because the methods of ideation and expression proper to our mentality do not apply to it.  It is the absolute of all things that we know and of each thing that we know and yet nothing nor any sum of things can exhaust or characterise its essential being.  For its manner of being is other than that which we call existence; its unity resists all analysis, its multiple infinities exceed every synthesis.  Therefore it is not in its absolute essentiality that it can be described as Mind of the mind, but in its fundamental nature in regard to our mental existence.  Brahman-consciousness is the eternal outlook of the Absolute upon the relative.”

“For neither Mind, Speech nor Sense can travel to the Brahman; therefore Brahman must be beyond all these things in its very nature, otherwise it would be attainable by them in their function. …   The reason of this entire inability is next given ‘because Brahman is other than the known and It is there over the unknown’, possessing it and, as it were, presiding over it.  The known is all that we grasp and possess by our present mentality; it is all that is not the supreme Brahman but only form and phenomenon of it to our sense and mental cognition.”

There is the Supreme Absolute, the unknowable Brahman.  There is also the unknown which may be beyond the capacities of Mind, Life and Body, yet within the theoretical capacities of a higher form or instrumentation of knowing.

“The means for the attainment of this highest knowledge is the constant preparation of the mind by the admission into it of a working higher than itself until the mind is capable of giving itself up to the supramental action which exceeds it and which will finally replace it.  In fact, Mind also has to follow the law of natural progression which has governed our evolution in this world from Matter into Life and Life into Mind.  For just as Life-consciousness is beyond the imprisoned mental material being and unattainable by it through its own instruments, just as mind-consciousness is beyond the first inconscient movements of life, so too this supramental consciousness is beyond the divided and dividing nature of Mind and unattainable by it through its own instruments.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 136-141

The Mind Behind the Mind, Part 3

There remain two issues to clear up in a review of the existence of a “mind behind the mind”.  The first of these relates to whether the evolution of this new power of consciousness and creative will actually can and will take place for humanity as a general capability, or whether it will evolve in such a way as to either leave the human being behind, or leave behind most of humanity in a specialized evolution.

The second one relates to the nature and pre-existence of what Sri Aurobindo terms the supramental consciousness that is this mind behind the mind.

We can observe that the human mind, with its many limitations and weaknesses which prevent it from being a “first mover” of knowledge or creation, also experiences intimations, intuitions and flashes which obviously originate from some higher plane of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “There is one law from the lowest to the highest.  Matter, when we examine it closely, proves to be instinct with the stuff of Life … but the visible principle of life can only emerge when the necessary material conditions have been prepared which will permit it to organise itself in Matter.  So also Life is instinct with the stuff of Mind, … but the visible principle of Mind can only emerge when the necessary vital conditions have been prepared which will permit it to organise itself in living Matter.  Mind too is instinct with the stuff of supermind — sympathies, unities, intuitions, emergences of pre-existent knowledge, instincts, imperative lights and movements, inherent self-effectivities of will which disguise themselves in a mental form; but the visible principle of supermind can only emerge when the necessary mental conditions are prepared which will permit it to organise itself in man, the mental living creature.”

The details of the progress of humanity in this direction “…suggests as much as it contradictions the hope and almost the assurance that when the new principle emerges it will not be by the creation of a new and quite different type which, separated after its creation, will leave the rest of mankind in the same position to it as are the animals to man, but, if not by the elevation of humanity as a whole to a higher level, yet by an opening of the greater possibility to all of the race who have the will to rise.  For Man, first among Nature’s children, has shown the capacity to change himself by his own effort and the conscious aspiration to transcend.”

The Upanishad, in stating the pre-existence and priority of this higher state of consciousness, makes it clear that it is not dependent on the evolution out of Matter for its existence per se.  “The Upanishad, however, enthrones it as the already existing creator and ruler of Mind; it is a secret principle already conscient and not merely contained inconsciently in the very stuff of things.  But this is the natural conclusion — even apart from spiritual experience — from the nature of the supramental principle.  For it is at its highest an eternal knowledge, will, bliss and conscious being and it is more reasonable to conclude that it is eternally conscious, though we are not conscious of it, and the source of the universe, than that it is eternally inconscient and only becomes conscient in Time as a result of the universe.  Our inconscience of it is no proof that it is inconscient to us: and yet our own incapacity is the only real basis left for the denial of an eternal Mind beyond mind superior to its creations and originative of the cosmos.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 129-135

The Mind Behind the Mind, Part 2

It is the strong habit of our mentality to view our existence in essentially opposite terms to the reality.  Just as we see the sun moving around the earth and believe our planet is at the center of the universe, until corrected by deeper observations and eventually by technology that extends our senses so that we can perceive the reality from a different angle, we fail to see, until corrected, that the material world we reside in actually is created by a higher consciousness that both exists independently and involves itself into the depths of Matter and from there evolves out in stages through Time the principles of life, mind and, eventually, those levels that lie beyond the mind.

It is obvious, with even a cursory review, that the Mind is not the original creative force of the universe, and that it suffers from limitations of perception, analysis, understanding and force of effectuation that imply that it is at best a middle term of consciousness, not the highest.  Thus, as we observe the evolution of life out of matter, and mind out of life, we must consider the idea that a further term must be in process of evolution out of mind.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “As Life is limited and hampered by the conditions of its synthesis with Matter, so Mind is limited and hampered by the conditions of its synthesis with Life in Matter.  Neither Matter nor Life has found anything proper to their own formula which could help to conquer or sufficiently expand its limitations; they have been compelled each to call in a new principle, Matter to call into itself Life, Life to call into itself Mind.  Mind also is not able to find anything proper to its own formula which can conquer or sufficiently expand the limitations imposed upon its workings; Mind also has to call in a new principle beyond itself, freer than itself and more powerful.”

“Mind does not exhaust the possibilities of consciousness and therefore cannot be its last and highest expression.  Mind tries to arrive at Truth and succeeds only in touching it imperfectly with a veil between; there must be in the nature of things a faculty or principle which sees the Truth unveiled, an eternal faculty of knowledge which corresponds to the eternal fact of the Truth.”

Similar analysis holds regarding the effective will of implementation and the seeking for ultimate delight of existence. Mind is unable to overcome its limitations and lapses and thus, a higher power of consciousness is required to hold, understand and implement what Mind is unable to achieve.

“If, then, such a deeper principle of consciousness exists, it must be that and not mind which is the original and fundamental intention concealed in Nature and which eventually and somewhere must emerge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 129-135